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Winning Rider Raises Tribal Issues

By Jim Wells

It is a simple matter to misinterpret the title for the entry song that preceded Friday’s Indian Relay Races, “Every time I bring a horse into the arena, I give it away.”

At first thought, we’re talking claiming horses, are we not?

We are not. The song which preceded the first Indian relay race on Friday meant something altogether different.

As did winning the first race of the night to the rider for the Bad Nation team, Jesse James White, a Hunkpapa/Lakota.

“Give me a minute to catch my breath,” he said, clearly winded after guiding his team’s three mounts to a clear victory after exchanging leads with Brew Crew, an Oglala team, for much of the three-mile race.

There is something equally or even more important to White than racing, and he carries the message on the back of his shirt, proclaiming clearly about the need to address the issue of murdered and missing Indian women on reservations across the nation, an epidemic rarely mentioned in the popular press. “That and the genocide we suffer,” he said. “All of it is important.”

Thus, White will do his part wherever and whenever he races, talking about the issues, giving them added life. Indigenous issues are not only largely ignored by the mainstream media but by the U.S. government as well.  If he can help even a bit, he intends to do so whenever the opportunity is there.

Athletically, he devotes himself to relay racing at this point of his life, although bull riding has intervened from time to time.  It was different previously, in high school, when he competed in track. He believes that jumping events played a role in the ease today with which he makes his exchanges, from one horse to another.

Having caught his breath after winning the first relay race on Friday, he explained that he always starts a race with a well out-lined strategy that often changes, requires adjustments, as the event unfolds. “I set a strategy every time,” he said. “Then it sometimes becomes a matter of play by play.”

Not much altered during this particular race, as White, if not on the lead, was never far back, and he put on a closing rush to become a clear winner, hooting and hollering as he rolled past the finish line.

The second relay event of the night appeared to have a winner, too, as Brian Beetem, who was the winning rider in the 2016 event at Canterbury, appeared destined for a second consecutive heat win, in addition to Thursday’s.

Riding for the Cheyenne River Sioux Dolphus team, Beetem hit the ground with a thud while attempting to change mounts after the second lap, and the  horse he was trying to dismount bolted away. Nearly trampled in the incident, Beetem was knocked out of contention.

That opened the door for the veteran Chris Carlson, riding for the Blackfeet Nation’s Little Badger team. Carlson was unaware of Beetem’s misfortune, but understood that his own fortunes had shifted suddenly while sprinting easily to the front.

Chris Carlson

He looked back occasionally on the final lap. “I just wanted to make sure nobody was trying to catch me,” he said. His lead was substantial at that point. All he had to do was stay aboard.

There were people awaiting him in the winner’s circle with congratulatory appreciation afterward, his girlfriend, Marci, and two-year-old daughter, Alaysia.

They were not present for his opening round win on Thursday night. They arrived from Great Falls, Montana around midnight, and he picked them up at St Paul-Minneapolis International, arriving back in Shakopee around 1 a.m.

Yes, he responded, even in an unfamiliar location he had no trouble negotiating the trip to and from the airport. “Google did its job,” he said.